by Braco Pobric

Something to think about when holiday shopping this year…

Can you really establish a habit of buying well-being? This might sound far-fetched, but research clearly shows you can.

What would you do if you were given some money and asked to spend it that day? What would make you happier—spending it on yourself or others?

This is exactly what Elizabeth W. Dunn, associate professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia; Lara B. Aknin, assistant professor of psychology at Simon Fraser University; and Michael I. Norton, associate professor of business administration at Harvard, wanted to find out. For their study, they gathered a group of students and gave them money randomly—to some they gave $5 and to others they gave $20.

They told the students that the money was theirs and to spend it any way they wanted, but they needed to spend it by the end of the day. They could buy things for themselves or spend it on others. Before receiving the money, and at the end of the day (after spending the money), the participants filled out questionnaires that allowed the researchers to measure their happiness level.

Participants also reported how they spent their money. Those who spent the money on themselves mostly purchased magazines, school supplies, and food. Those who spent the money on other people mostly purchased toys for siblings, bought meals for the homeless, or shared a meal with a friend.

It turned out that participants who spent the money on others ended the day much happier than the participants who decided to spend the money on themselves. It is also interesting to notice that the amount of money did not matter—the results were about the same regardless of whether they received $5 or $20. The only thing that mattered was how they spent the money. Regardless of the amount of money they spent, the people who spent money on others were happier.

Braco PobricBraco Pobric is an author, life and executive coach, speaker, educator, and founding member and Chief Happiness Officer of the Institute for Advanced Human Performance. He is a certified Positive Psychology Coach and former certified trainer and coach for Dale Carnegie Training. He currently holds a leadership role with a global financial company, and lives in New Jersey with his wife, Nevenka, and their cat Ringo. This article is excerpted from Braco’s book Habits and Happiness: How to Become Happier and Improve Your Wellbeing by Changing Your Habits.